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California law comes down hard on secret telephone recording

Anyone who has called a customer service hotline has heard this message before being connected to an agent: “This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes.” Most of the time, we accept that our call might be recorded in this context, because we have been informed and it does not seem like an undue invasion of our privacy.

However, most of us are likely to be so willing to be recorded if a company like a debt collection agency is the party who made the call. And especially not if they are taping us secretly, without alerting us what they are doing.

California has one of the toughest laws in the U.S. against secret recording of phone calls. It is one of a minority of states that requires that all parties on a call consent to being recorded. The California Invasion of Privacy Act, or CIPA, gives consumers the power to take legal action against creditors or debt collectors who illegally record their conversations.

Statutory damages under CIPA provide for $5,000 per instance of illegal phone recording, as well as similar activities like wiretapping and eavesdropping. If a company doing business in California has a policy of actions that violate CIPA and victims find out about it, the financial penalty could be quite substantial. Hopefully, that acts as a deterrent in some cases.

People being pursued by debt collectors have enough to worry about without wondering if they are being recorded without their knowledge or consent. Consumers have rights, which they can learn about during a conversation with an attorney.

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